At the start of May, we got the chance to go away for a few days as part of a blog review courtesy of Hampshire Top Attractions. We were lucky enough to have a holiday in Hants last year – where we visited Paultons Park, Winchester Science Museum and Blue Reef Aquarium – so were really chuffed to be invited back. For some strange reason, I don’t often get asked back to the same place twice…
Compared to last year, Toddler L is obviously that bit older now. The fact that she can walk, interacts with what’s around her etc, opens up a whole range of different activities that we can do as a family compared to when she was a baby. As such, this break to Hampshire would actually be our first holiday with a toddler.
Prior to our trip, we’d looked at the numerous different things to do via the Hampshire Top Attractions website and created an itinerary for our staycation. We were given the chance to visit Hillier Gardens, Robin Hill Adventure Park (at Isle of Wight) and Marwell Zoo, as well as being provided with accommodation at Home from Home Portsmouth and treated to a meal at Mozzarella Joes as part of our review.
Below is a day-by-day account of what we got up to over the four days in Hampshire:
Day 1 – Hillier Gardens & Southsea Beach
With the car packed, we began the 1.5 hour ish journey down to Hampshire from Hertfordshire. Setting off around 10.30am, we hoped that the sprog would fall asleep in the car for the majority of the journey to coincide with her nap. Our evil plan worked – she slept most of the way, meaning we were treated to a peaceful start to our break away.
Our first stop was in Romsey for the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens – a 72 hectares arboretum / botanical garden with supposedly over 72,000 trees and shrubs, although I lost count at 237 so cannot verify their claim. On arrival, we parked the car, picked up our tickets, visited the toilets as my bladder is no longer what it used to be, then began to wander around the different paths.
We headed towards the Winter Garden where we failed to pronounce the Latin names for the trees and shrubs, whilst also commenting on what we saw in front of us with exclamations like “that looks weird” and “that wouldn’t work in the garden”. Next, we followed the signs to a large treehouse which gave us nice views across the gardens and the opportunity to test out the kid’s slide – obviously for Toddler L’s enjoyment, not mine…
At this point, the sprog became pretty hangry – that’s hungry and angry for those who don’t combine words to make new ones. Having stupidly left Toddler L’s snacks in another bag in the car, we instead went to the restaurant in the Visitors Pavilion for some food.
Despite being busy, there were plenty of seats and a good choice of food – the sprog got a ‘pick five items for your lunch’ thing, the missus had mac & cheese and I got a pulled pork sandwich. The food was good and hit the spot, although we did have to wait a while because a bloke on another table claimed our food as his as he’d ordered the same.
With our happy toddler back, we headed out for another walk around the gardens. This time, we decided to go in the other direction, which took us via the Pond, the Bog Garden and Gurkha Memorial Garden. As we walked around, we were surprised at how unique the areas looked.
I’m no botanist, but even I could see that different plants were growing in each garden, such as the large bamboos in the marshy parts versus flowers in the non-marshy parts – I think that’s the technical term.
We continued our walk via Jermyn’s House, the Education Garden and back to the Visitor Centre, just in time to test out the baby changing facilities as Toddler L decided to soil herself. In total, we’d spent around three hours wandering around the gardens and still had plenty of bits that we’d not seen, however we were meeting the accommodation owner in order to pick up the keys, so we had to get a shimmy on.
We drove the final 30 minutes to Southsea and pulled up directly outside our apartment. We were staying in a Home From Home two-bed, short-term let directly on the seafront. We met the property owner, Jane, who took us inside and showed us around our home for the next few days.
We were really impressed with the apartment – it was clean, tidy and had all of the amenities we needed, including broadband, TV, parking, microwave, oven, washing machine etc. It was also toddler-friendly with plenty of toys, a highchair and a travel cot. Surprisingly, Jane had kindly bought in a couple of store cupboard essentials such as milk, bread and wine – the latter being much appreciated!
We quickly put the travel cot up in the second bedroom and put Toddler L down for a nap, which gave the missus and I the chance to test out the TV and sofa whilst she slept. On waking, we drove to the nearby supermarket at Fratton Park to pick up a bit of food, ate our tea, watched the CBeebies bedtime hour and then popped across the road for a bit of fresh air before the sprog went to bed.
Living in Hertfordshire, we don’t often get the opportunity to visit the beach, so it was nice to see Toddler L enjoying her time by the sea. We spent a reasonable amount of time dodging the waves, skipping stones and trying to convince her that it was time to head in so that she could go to bed.
Day 2 – Isle of Wight & Robin Hill Country Park
After a good night’s sleep, we got up early as we were heading over to the Isle of Wight for the day. We had our Wightlink Ferry tickets already booked, so just needed to drive the short 10 minutes from the apartment to Gunwharf Quays. We arrived a little early and were able to get on a slightly earlier car ferry as it wasn’t that busy. The process was surprisingly simple – our tickets were scanned, we queued up, drove onto the ferry, left the car and went up into the main seating bit.
Toddler L hadn’t been on a boat before so we were interested in seeing what she’d make of the 45 minute trip across the sea to Fishbourne. She was pretty memorised looking out of the window as we left Portsmouth – we were also treated to what felt like thousands of renditions of ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’, although the only words she knows are “rowrow rowrow” over and over again.
After spending a bit of time inside watching the world go by through the window, we decided to go upstairs and outside onto the deck. As Todder L was with us, there’s surely some joke about ‘poop deck’, but I’ll let you write that yourself. We took some obligatory windswept photos, Toddler L splashed in some puddles and we did our best to stop her jumping overboard.
Having never been to the Isle of Wight before, we wanted to try and see as much as possible. We had tickets for Robin Hill Country Park, but as we’d arrived at IOW a little after 9am, we had plenty of time to explore prior to going there. We therefore decided that a road trip along the coast would give us the chance to take in some of the scenic views, particularly as the weather was awesomely sunny (I think that’s an official meteorology term).
Our first stop was Ryde – which overlooks Portsmouth – where we drove along the seafront, played on the beach and gave the sprog a quick snack. We then continued our road trip, driving clockwise along the coast via Seaview, Sandown, Shanklin and Ventnor as Toddler L napped.
We’d seen signs to a lighthouse, so decided to head there to check out the views and stretch our legs. We parked up the car, stuck the sprog in the carrier, then had a wander down a bendy path to St Catherine’s Point – the southern most point of IOW. The lighthouse was closed, but we enjoyed walking along the downs and checking out the scenic views along the rocky coastline.
After a quick bite to eat back at the car, we drove inland and up to Robin Hill Country Park where we planned to stay for the afternoon. We didn’t really know what to expect from Robin Hill, so was really surprised when we looked at the map to find that there were loads of different things to do. The name suggested it was a country park, but it was more like an adventure park with treetop trails, pitch and put, toboggan run, play areas, train ride and falconry, to name a few.
We didn’t really have any plans for Robin Hill, so decided to just walk around and stop off at whatever we fancied – they had something called a ‘Family Route’ which was really helpful as it went all around the park via the main kid-friendly attractions. Our first stop was the Treetop Trail where we had a climb and play on the various rope bridges, cargo nets and wooden towers – although designed for older kids, Toddler L’s Tumble Tots training served her well.
Our next stop was the Cow Express Train, however this was unfortunately closed for lunch. Still, Toddler L got to meet a few randomly dressed cows. That can be ticked off her bucket list.
The sprog was started to get a bit grumpy at this stage, so we took her out of the carrier just as we reached the Duckdown Play Village. This is a miniature village with a number of different themed buildings, like a school, sweet shop and houses. She really enjoyed playing in and exploring this area. A word of warning though – as an adult, you might wish to duck your head when inside!
As we walked around, I was really surprised at how spacious and scenic the park is. Robin Hill is actually set in 80 acres of countryside, so there’s plenty of nice views and places to sit and relax too.
We then reached the Lookout Tower, which is a tall structure overlooking the countryside, and the Rabbit Run, which is a series of underground tunnels. Unfortunately though we didn’t spend much time here as the sprog was knackered. She couldn’t decide whether she wanted to be carried or roam free as she needed a nap, so we bunged her in the carrier and tried to shush her to sleep as we continued walking.
We continued via the Falconry Centre and down towards the African Adventure. The sprog had gone quiet after burying her head in the missus’ bosom- not a bad place to be – but began to stir as she heard the animal sounds at the African Adventure. We decided to have a quick pit stop, so bought drinks and ice-creams from a refreshment booth. Although initially happy with her kid’s ice-cream, Toddler L spotted the missus’ chocolate cone and soon was in possession of it after a tantrum. The missus still talks about this injustice nearly a month later.
We took a detour from the ‘Family Route’ and went off road through the impressive woodland gardens where we saw a variety of blossoming plants and trees. We then came back out onto the ‘Family Route’ where we discovered a large open space of grass and the Tots’ Play Area.
As time was starting to get on slightly, we made our way back towards the entrance via the 10 metres high Canopy Skywalk which allows you to walk among the trees.
We really enjoyed our time at Robin Hill. We’d been there about 3.5 hours, but could have spent a lot longer due to the amount of things available to do. It was really good going on a weekday because it was pretty empty, which obviously meant that we didn’t have to deal with any crowds. Obviously Robin Hill is pretty expansive, so can be hard work on the legs – and I don’t just mean the toddler’s – so a baby carrier or pushchair is a must. Despite being 20 months old, there was still plenty for Toddler L to do at Robin Hill, so it’s not just designed for older kids.
We got back into the car and Toddler L was asleep within seconds, suggesting that her slightly grumpy mood was due to tiredness. We headed Fishbourne, got on the ferry, got back to the apartment and crashed out for the rest of the evening.
Day 3 – Marwell Zoo & Mozarella Joe’s
The third day of our Hampshire holiday saw us head to Marwell Zoo. Toddler L is at that age where she loves looking at and mimicking animals, so a trip to the zoo was always going to be a hit with her. I’m a bit over zoos if I’m honest as we have an annual pass to Whipsnade, but I’ve learnt that sacrifice is a big part of parenting!
We drove the 45 minutes or so to Marwell Zoo, parked up and went in – unfortunately Toddler L hadn’t slept in the car, so we were expecting her to be in a slightly grumpy mood. As you’d expect from a large wildlife park, there were plenty of animals on show ranging from penguins to tigers to meerkats.
The zoo is 140-acres in size, so there’s plenty of walking to be done if you want to see all of the animals. We didn’t have anywhere in particular we wanted to visit, so just followed the various paths and stopped off when we saw something that took our fancy.
In addition to walking around and looking at the animals, we also made use of some of the other things within the zoo. We stopped off at the cafe for lunch, played at one of the adventure playgrounds, rolled down the grass hill outside of Marwell Hall and used the toilet on more than one occasion!
Unfortunately, Toddler L’s crankiness and reluctance to sleep in the carrier was a little bit of a dampener. One minute she wanted to walk, the next she wanted to by held, the next she wanted to tantrum on the floor. This meant that we had to cut short our visit in favour of returning to the car so that she could sleep on the way home.
We’d still had a good few hours at the zoo and were impressed with what was on offer. However, a few of the animals – most notably giraffes – had been moved and it sometimes felt like you had to walk a fair distance between the different animals, which isn’t great when you’re with a toddler with small legs. Still, you could definitely spend an entire day at the zoo with your family.
At around 5pm, we headed from the apartment to Mozzarella Joes for some food. The restaurant is in a great location on Southsea esplanade, with nice views out across the sea where you can watch the ferries and hovercraft make their way to and from the Isle of Wight.
We were shown to a table by the window and given a bit of time to peruse the very tasty looking menu. Toddler L was also given a balloon and some crayons to keep her occupied. The missus and I both ordered a milkshake and the scampi and calamari combo to share. I then had a BBQ chicken pizza, the missus had the San Fran calzone and Toddler L had a chicken and mushroom pizza from the kid’s menu, although to be fair, her pizza was huge!
We were really impressed with the food – everything was fresh, tasty and the portions were huge. The service was also fantastic – the waitress we had was so friendly and Toddler L took to her instantly. Eating out in restaurants with a toddler can always be a bit of a pain, so having staff on hand who can empathise with the plight of us parents and go that bit further to keep your kids happy is always appreciated.
The missus and I were too stuffed for dessert, but the sprog happily polished off a Mini Milk lolly which came with the kid’s menu. After the meal, we visited the amusements, had a walk on the beach, then headed back to the apartment for the night.
Day 4 – The Tenth Hole & Gunwharf Quays
After a busy few days, we had no big plans for our final day in Hampshire. As we hadn’t really had time to explore the local Southsea area, we decided to have a wander as the weather was nice. We headed out from the apartment and came across the nearby Canoe Lake, where we walked around the boating lake and spent a bit of time at the well equipped children’s play area.
After sharing a photo on Instagram earlier in the week of where we were staying, a couple of people had mentioned that we should have coffee and cake at The Tenth Hole tea rooms. As we hadn’t eaten, and as it was only a ten minute walk from the park, we decided to wander down for brunch. We treated ourselves to a cooked breakfast and massive slice of rocky road, although we hid the latter so we could eat it in peace when Toddler L was napping!
The sprog had a mid-morning nap back at the apartment, then we loaded up the car and drove over to the designer outlet to have a look around the shops at Gunwharf Keys. We’d been there when we visited Portsmouth last year, so knew there were a fair few places to splurge our cash on ourselves. As it turned out, we didn’t buy anything for ourselves and instead treated Toddler L to three pairs of Vans. Kids, eh?!
And that was that. Our Hampshire holiday was over. We’d had a great few days visiting some of the attractions in the county and it’d been really nice to get a few days away with the family – the awesome sunny weather was a pleasant bonus. We definitely plan on visiting Hampshire again to see what else the county has to offer.
Have you been on holiday to Hampshire before? Have you visited any of the attractions we went to? What are your favourite things to do in the county? Let me know below!
Summary And The DADventurer Star Rating
Home From Home Accommodation – 4.5 out of 5 stars
Hillier Gardens – 4.5 out of 5 stars
Robin Hill – 5 out of 5 stars
Marwell Zoo – 4 out of 5 stars
Mozzarella Joes – 5 out of 5 stars
N.B. This review was written by me (Dave) and represents my honest opinion. The accommodation (Home From Home), attractions (Hillier Gardens, Wightlink Ferry, Robin Hill and Marwell Zoo) and meal (Mozarella Joes) were provided to us by Hampshire Top Attractions in exchange for writing an honest review about our experiences.[jetpack_subscription_form subscribe_text=”Like what you’ve read? Want more? Pop in your email to get all of the latest posts.”]